Whilst thousands of festivals are celebrated all over Spain throughout the year there are only a few that bring overseas visitors specifically for the event. The Fallas fiesta which takes place in Valencia from 15th to the 19th of March every year is undoubtedly one of those ‘super-festivals’ attracting many foreign visitors as well as Spanish tourists from all over the country. This was the first major festival I ever went to in Spain and to this day cannot get over the sheer craziness of it all.
San José (Saint Joseph), the patron saint of carpenters, is the official focus for the festival. It all started back in the Middle Ages when carpenters used to hang up planks of wood called ‘parots’ in the winter to support their candles when they were working. At the onset of spring these pieces of wood would be burned as a way of celebrating the end of dark, winter working days. After a while they began to put clothing on the ‘parot’ and then started to try to make it identifiable with a well-known local personality. These became the forerunners of the contemporary ‘ninots’, the enormous cardboard, wooden, polyurethane, Styrofoam, cork, plaster and papier-maché figures of today. The authorities later decided to link the burning of the ‘parots’ with Saint Joseph’s Day to try to stop it getting out of control!
Nowadays, each neighbourhood has an organising committee, the ‘casal faller’, who raise the necessary finances for constructing the ‘ninots’. There is even an area of the city called the ‘Ciutat Fallera’ where whole groups of workers and designers spend months creating all the incredible towering tableaux. The ‘ninots’, which are placed at key places throughout the city, are often cruel satirical lampoons of well-known Spanish and international celebrities or politicians.